Really low cost computing?

NComputing CEO Stephen Dukker is proposing what amounts to disposable PCs, using chips so cheap they can be embedded in keyboards, monitors and the like.

Dukker expects a new business model for computing to develop from these $15 chips as "the cost of what we call 'the computer' goes away".

"We foresee tens of millions of these devices being rolled out and truly bridging the digital divide," he adds. "Cable TV broadcasters and telecommunications companies can also provide distributed computing to customers using this model. It is extremely viable to deliver computing, news, entertainment and communications over these devices, and as they support VOIP, one can use them as telephones as well."

The computer entrepreneur says the chips are "being tested right now in India, China and Russia".

Dukker says the main client for NComputing's current generation of thin client-type "quiet devices" remain education, but industry is catching up rapidly. For the former, his company's main markets are the US, followed by Brazil, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In SA, NComputing has a presence in the Western Cape schools system. NComputing SA channel partner NCS has also been included on De Beers' vendor list.

"Our second biggest market after education is manufacturing in emerging markets, because users have discovered our devices can operate in very hot, very dusty and very high-vibration environments without any ruggedisation - and they are so inexpensive," Dukker notes.

"This technology is so cool because it works for major corporations, as well as it works for making computer technology available to nearly everybody."

Going laptop

Dukker says the current generation of NComputing "quiet devices" are desktop-bound. Next year will see the introduction of a laptop variant to rival Intel's Classmate and other sub-notebooks. These will offer a "computer-like" experience using WiFi.

He says sub-notebooks are a poor investment as their "functional lifetime is limited". They typically offer de-featured chipsets that are "obsolete when you buy them". Thus, buyers are "investing scarce capital in a solution that is obsolete in a very short time".

Laptop-based sub-notebooks have the further liability that "you also lose the screen, keyboard and attached peripherals when the chip goes obsolete". In addition, ultra-low-cost laptops come with small screens. "These may be fine for children, but a grown-up can't do a whole day's work on a nine-inch screen."

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